August 27, 2005

Spitting into the wind

From "Company revives Equinox wind plan," Rutland Herald, August 27, 2005:
Endless Energy has a contract in place with the Burlington Electric Department, which will purchase the entire output of the turbines when they are up and running, [Endless Energy president Harley] Lee said.

That's enough electricity to satisfy 7 percent of the entire demand in Burlington, said Patti Richards, the director of resource planning for the department.

With the cost of oil now above $65 per barrel, the economics have swung in favor of wind energy, [said Patti Richards, the director of resource planning for the Burlington Electric Department (BED)].

"Whatever amount of kilowatts we can buy (for wind power) is a savings," she said. "If this project doesn't move forward, we'll likely have to go for a rate increase."

What makes wind energy even more attractive from an economic standpoint is that renewable energy can be traded on a secondary market, Richards said, giving the electric department a buffer if oil prices were to drop.
Burlington's main power plant, although it is able to burn oil and natural gas, is primarily fuelled by wood. According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, a grand total of 0.2% of the electricity generated in Vermont in 2002 was from oil. Even if all of it was from Burlington -- which it isn't -- oil would represent only 3.3% of BED's output.

The threat of a rate increase if people don't support the wind power facility is simply dishonest bullying. In fact, BED is more likely to be more dependent on oil if they brought in wind power, because oil-fired plants are precisely the quick-response generators necessary to deal with the wildly fluctuating input from wind turbines.

As Richards lets slip, however, the obvious economic benefit is in that market for "green credits" -- the environmental indulgences that people can buy to allow them to continue polluting. The electricity generated by wind turbines doesn't even have to be used, only generated. Since output is so erratic, it is likely to be dumped or at best exported into a larger grid where the fluctuations won't be as much of a problem. So for the prospect of raking in profits from selling not energy but meaningless credits for wind turbine production, Burlington Electric supports industrializing a southern Vermont mountaintop with virtually useless 400-foot-high wind towers. Some vision!

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